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The Psychology of Time

by YPU Admin on May 12, 2016, Comments. Tags: psychology, Research, and UoM

Introduction

My name is Emily Williams and I’m currently a first year Psychology PhD student at the University of Manchester (UoM). After completing my A-Levels in 2010 (Psychology, Sociology and Computing), I went on to study Psychology at UoM from 2011 to 2014, and the following year I completed a Psychology Masters at UoM also. During my Masters studies I managed to secure funding for a three year PhD which started in October 2015. As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of Psychology, and also UoM (when I finish my PhD I will have been here seven years!), but my main interest specifically is the Psychology of Time Perception – how people perceive time.

As a Time Perception researcher I believe that people have a type of ‘internal clock’ which is what gives us the ability to sense how time passes. The speed of the internal clock can be altered, which gives us the perception of time dragging when we’re bored, or flying when we’re having fun. Other things have been found to speed up the clock, including high body temperature, certain emotions, and even hearing a series of ‘clicks’ for five seconds. Time seems to pass more quickly in these situations, which makes us overestimate how much ‘real’ time has passed. The first year of my PhD will focus mainly on a certain quirk of the internal clock – people judge sounds to be longer than lights, even when they are both the exact same duration. People are also more sensitive to duration when using their sense of hearing, than touch and vision.

In Depth…

For my first experiment, my participants will be sat in a dim room in front of a computer, with their dominant hand holding a foam block containing a small vibration generator (like the one in your mobile phone) and their non-dominant hand poised to type in answers using a keypad. A green LED is attached to the foam block, and a speaker is behind it. The vibrating plate, LED and speaker will present sounds, lights and vibrations to participants, and in the first task they will have to estimate how long these lasted for.

In the second task they will be given two of these (e.g. a light and a sound, or two vibrations) and have to answer ‘which was longer’, and on the final task ‘which came first?’.

I will then look at people’s answers for these tasks, and check whether the classic overestimations of how long sounds were when compared to lights are present. I will then try to see if there is a relationship between how accurate people are in their estimations, and how well they can answer which was longer and which came first. My guess is that the better people are at estimating time using one sense (e.g. vision, touch or hearing), the better they are at telling whether time in this sense was longer than another sense, and whether this sense came first. What do you think?

Next year, I will be broadening my scope to other things that affect the internal clock. I will also be looking at possible applications for my research. For example, the ‘clicks’ that I mentioned earlier have been found to not only affect how we perceive time, but have the added bonus of increasing the amount of information we can take in, and also speed up how quickly we can react to things! Although these are quite short-lived bonuses, I might be able to invent a way to help people revise for exams, or be better at video games, using a series of simple clicks.

Going Further…

Visit this website if you’d like to know more about the Psychology of Time Perception, including how it may work in the brain. It has a great section on ‘temporal illusions’ where it explains many things which change the speed of the internal clock, making your perception of time seem faster or slower.

Take a look at this article on Time Perception by the BBC, which features an interview with Professor John Wearden, a notable time perception researcher, who also used to be Head of Psychology at UoM!

This YouTube channel shows lecturers at UoM talking about common misconceptions about Psychology, and highlights of their research.

If you’re interested in the other types of Psychological research going on at UoM, click here.

Finally, have a look at a previous Young Person University blog about Psychology.


 

Healthy Mind, Healthy Body...

by YPU Admin on October 29, 2015, Comments. Tags: efficacy, Health, psychology, Research, STI, and UoM

Introduction

My name is Nicola Beer and I work as a Graduate Intern for the Student Recruitment and Widening Participation department at the University of Manchester. Prior to this, I completed a degree in Psychology (also at the University of Manchester) and I graduated in July this year.

As part of my degree I was required to undertake a final year project under the supervision of an academic researcher at the University of Manchester. One area that particularly interested me throughout my degree was Health Psychology and so I was pleased when the supervisor I was allocated to was a researcher in this area.

My research project involved investigating factors that influence people’s intentions to take on a particular health behaviour. The health behaviour that I focused on in my research was sexual health behaviour. More specifically, I focused on what influenced people to use a self-test kit to test themselves for STI infections.



In Depth

In order to carry out my research, I tested factors from a theory used by many Health Psychologists, called Protection Motivation Theory. One factor from this model that is believed to influence people’s health behaviour is ‘self-efficacy’. Self-efficacy is defined as one’s belief in their own ability to change their behaviour; if they have high self-efficacy they are more likely to engage in positive health behaviours. Another factor is ‘fear’. Does how fearful someone is about a particular health outcome (e.g. obtaining a sexually transmitted disease, as I investigated in my research) influence the health behaviour they display?

In order to collect data for my research, I developed a questionnaire with my supervisor that contained questions designed to measure what influences peoples’ intentions to use a self-test kit. I ran various statistical tests on the questionnaire to check its internal consistency (whether several items that propose to measure the same general construct produce similar scores). It was then sent out to all first and second year undergraduate Psychology students who completed it online.

What I found…

I analysed the results using a hierarchical multiple regression and found, consistent with much other research in the area, that two factors significantly predicted individual’s intentions to self-test for Chlamydia. These factors were vulnerability and self-efficacy; therefore those who perceived themselves to be more vulnerable to the health risk, and those with higher self-efficacy, were more likely to intend to self-test, i.e. more likely to carry out the positive health behaviour.

What this means…

My research has practical applications to the real-world suggesting that increasing an individuals’ self-efficacy will result in them being more likely to use self-test kits. An example of this practical application could be to provide clear instructions with self-test kits with the aim of increasing individual’s confidence in their ability to use the kit.

My research was also useful in that it can be used to inform academics of future areas that research could be carried out in. For example, more research could go into examining further the role of fear in predicting behavioural intentions (which did not produce a significant result in my research).

I enjoyed my final year research project because I got the chance to use skills gained during my degree (e.g. statistical analysis and data collection skills) to carry out research into an area that interested me.

Going Further…


 

How to read minds...almost

by YPU Admin on March 5, 2015, Comments. Tags: behaviour, employability, MHLS, mind, mindreading, postgrad, psychology, and Research

"You study Psychology? Does this mean that you know what I’m thinking?"

This is a common response when I tell people what I do. The general public seem to be fascinated by Psychology. Concepts from Psychology are part of our everyday language and form the basis of many television programmes. Yet as Psychology is a very diverse field, many people only have a vague idea of what a Psychology researcher, student, or professional might actually be doing with their time.


What is Psychology?

Psychology is a vast field of study that can basically be summarised as the study of the mind and behaviour. This captures a number of related but varied disciplines. The School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Manchester offer degrees in Psychology, Audiology and Speech and language therapy. Researchers in the school are working on projects that can span from the development of hearing aids, to the factors which influence somebody’s preferences for particular products. 


Studying Psychology 

Studying Psychology as an undergraduate involves a three year programme which offers a broad introduction to the field. As students progress through the course they can choose modules which allow them to follow their developing interests. Psychology students gain scientific research skills throughout the course and complete their own research project in the final year.  


What can I do with a degree in Psychology? 

15-20% of students who study Psychology as an undergraduate will go on to continue studying for a postgraduate qualification. Examples of postgraduate training courses include Clinical Psychology, Educational Psychology and Occupational Psychology. Alternatively, students may consider completing further research training such as a PhD, in which they focus on a specific research project over several years.

Students who do not decide to continue training in Psychology may pursue opportunities such as training as an occupational therapist, working for the police or in human resources.  The skills in critical thinking, communication and problem solving that students develop over the course of their Psychology degree are valued by many employers.

There are further benefits to studying Psychology beyond enhancing your career prospects. For example, Psychology can teach you a great deal about yourself and how you interact with people and the world around you. A degree in Psychology can help you understand the limits of how much you can remember, why your eyes plays tricks on you, or why you are drawn to particular options in the supermarket. You may not finish the three years with mind reading abilities, but you will have an improved understanding of how we navigate our world.  


Going further

The School of Psychological Sciences website provides information about studying Psychology at the University of Manchester http://www.psych-sci.manchester.ac.uk/

The British Psychological Society’s website provides information about degrees and careers in Psychology, including further information about Clinical Psychology, Educational Psychology and Occupational Psychology http://www.bps.org.uk/careers-in-psychology

The following website offers synopses of interesting developments in Psychology research: http://mindhacks.com/

A series of videos in which lecturers from the University of Manchester discuss common misconceptions about Psychology can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNGSLqZab4TkgY8cnJQxgtA


 

What makes our bodyclock tick

Introduction

My name is Adam and I am a first-year Neuroscience PhD student, studying how our bodies measure the passage of time. In fact, nearly every cell in our body contains a clock. However, it is the brain that keeps our cells in sync with the environment. Think of the body like an orchestra; each musician (cell) has the ability to create music (measure time), however without the conductor (brain), the musicians will play out of time with each other.  

An important feature of our natural environment is the 24-hour changes in solar conditions, which we can divide into day and night. The brain receives natural light information through the eyes that tells it how much light is available at different times of the day. Then, it adjusts its internal clock to the correct time of day and coordinates the rest of the body. The resulting ‘circadian’ rhythms in our behaviour and physiology, for example sleep/wake and body temperature patterns, last approximately (circa) a day (dian). Without a circadian system, we would be unable to partition our phasic biology to the day and night.

In-depth

In 1972, scientists found the location of the ‘master’ circadian clock in an area of the hypothalamus, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Many SCN cells contain a network of genes, including the Period and Cryptochrome, that function like the cogs of a wristwatch; the time between switching them on and off is equal to around 24 hours. This genetic rhythm is detected in many different organs and tissues however in the SCN it is self-sustained and reset by light. We can detect these genes to identify other brain areas that may function as a self-sustained clock. As a result, our understanding of the circadian system has progressed towards a multi-clock model in which different brain regions combine circadian timekeeping with different physiological processes. One such region is the mediobasal nucleus of the hypothalamus (MBH) which has an established role in the regulation of metabolism (energy intake and expenditure).

One issue with modern life is that our daily schedules no longer correlate with sunrise and sunset, but with our working hours/social hours. Recent evidence suggests that this misalignment increases the risk of a range of diseases from obesity and diabetes to depression and dementia. The MBH, being both a clock and a metabolic controller, may play a role in this relationship between circadian disruption and metabolic disease.

My project aims to develop an understanding of how the clockwork in the MBH influences how it controls metabolism under normal conditions and with different diets. A detailed understanding of this interaction may help us develop clock-targeted treatments for metabolic diseases. 

4 tips for a healthy circadian system-

·  Expose yourself to as much natural light as possible

·  Make your bedroom dark – seal up the windows and avoid light at all costs!

·  Avoid artificial light before bedtime – that means no phones, laptops, tablets folks.

·  Sleep/wake at regular times – While a lie in at the weekend is good for catching up on ‘sleep-debt’ accumulated during the week, try not to overdo it. 

Going further

The website for the faculty of life sciences at the University of Manchester - http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/

At the University of Manchester we have the largest group of chronobiologists in Europe! Information about this research can be found here- http://www.manchester.ac.uk/collaborate/expertise/neuroscience/biological-clocks/

How the circadian clock affects sleep – The sleep foundation http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/sleep-drive-and-your-body-clock


 

Understanding Autism

by YPU Admin on August 12, 2014, Comments. Tags: autism, psychology, Research, and senses

Introduction

My name is Dan and I am in the third year of a four year PhD in Cognitive Psychology.  Cognitive Psychology involves developing and testing ideas about the processes that take place in the brain. I work with people with autism in my research.

My route to the PhD

I took a gap year after finishing my A levels in which I volunteered as a teacher in South Africa. I then went to the University of Leicester to study Psychology with Sociology. During my undergraduate degree I developed an interest in working with people with autism after doing some voluntary work for the National Autistic Society. On finishing my undergraduate degree I worked for a charity which offered supported living to people with autism and learning disabilities. I then worked in a mental health ward as a health care assistant before beginning my PhD.


In Depth

What is autism?

Autism is a developmental condition which affects people throughout their life. It impacts on how a person interacts with others and understands social situations. Sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste can all be experienced in different ways by people with autism (more on that below). People with autism can also experience problems with movement and may be very clumsy.

Autism exists on a spectrum: some people may have a learning disability and require daily support, while others can live independent lives and reach high ranking professions. It is a relatively common condition, affecting about 1% of the population. However, we currently know very little about autism, its causes and the exact way it affects people.

The senses in autism

People with autism may show increased sensitivity in how their senses work. For example, they may have problems with bright lighting, particular sounds or the way things feel. Alternatively, people with autism may be under sensitive. They might not notice extremes of temperature or have a very high tolerance to pain. These differences can have a great impact on a person’s day to day life and make the world a less accessible place. However, sometimes differences in how the senses work can actually create positive experiences for people with autism. For instance, some people may find the feeling of rocking back and forth relaxing.

What do I investigate?

Understanding all of these differences in how the senses work is very complicated. In my research I am focusing on the processes that take place in the brain to combine information from the different senses to help us understand the world. Think about crossing a busy road: we must combine the sound of a passing cars engine with the sight of the car moving when crossing the road safely. Generally the brain is very effective at bringing this information together. However, it may be that this process does not work as effectively in autism, which may lead to differences in how the senses work. To test this idea I run a number of experiments in which we present adults with autism with things like simple light flashes and vibrations. We then compare how people with autism respond with a group of adults that do not have autism. We hope that improving our understanding of how the senses work differently in autism may lead to the development of treatments that will help people with autism to interact with the world around them.


Going Further

The website for the lab I work in at Manchester:  http://beamlab.lab.ls.manchester.ac.uk/

The National Autistic Society website http://www.autism.org.uk/ which includes a lot of information about autism

A short clip from a recent BBC documentary on autism: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01w8hyy

A post on one of the processes by which information from the different senses work together http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Crossmodal_attention 

An illusion involving the automatic combination of information from the different senses including an explanation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-lN8vWm3m0

Neuroskeptic a blog on neuroscience, psychology and scientific criticism http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/#.U5NPr_ldUuc